Rack Magazine

True Grit

True Grit

By Mike Handley

Lesser men would’ve taken a road more easily traveled.

Central New York had its whitest December on record in 2010. Even before Dec. 21, the first official day of winter, six feet of snow had fallen, and lots more came those last 10 days, the worst following Christmas.

Prior to the Boxing Day blizzard that shut down much of the entire Northeast, public schools in Syracuse closed for only two days. The airport there shut down for a mere 15 minutes. Drifts and heaps of plowed snow grew to the two-story level, but the roads were mostly clear and open.

Dealing with bad weather might be business as usual in those parts, but such is as foreign a concept to many as trudging through knee-high snow to reach a property’s most out-of-the-way deer stand.

Dave Edwards of Homer, N.Y., barely gave the snow a second thought before striking out for his in-laws’ 2,000-acre farm on Dec. 11. Able only to hunt weekends after the time change, no amount of snow — or a sick cat — was going to keep him indoors on a Saturday.

Even so, he could’ve picked a far easier place to go, instead of the damnable hill. The only reason the 31-year-old chose to climb that hill for the second time that season was because he’d seen a buck within 15 minutes of trodding there during the bow season.

Dave married Andrea McMahon the previous July, but he’d hunted her family’s holdings for three years (the hill only once), and he’d always admired their dedication to quality deer management. His brother-in-law has taken some fine bucks off the tract.

As soon as he reached the crest, Dave thought about climbing into an old treestand his father-in-law had built 10 years earlier — a plywood platform between three maples, accessible by metal tree steps. As far as anyone knew, it had sat idle for seven years.

Dave learned later that a farmhand was the last person to hunt from the platform, and Mr. McMahon could see him in it from the office above his barn. He said they used to laugh at the guy freezing his butt off in that stand.

Had Dave known the platform had weathered the elements for a decade, he might never have had the courage to test it, even though he woke that day with good vibes.

“That morning just felt different,” Dave said. “It had snowed for a week straight, and another storm was on the way. I thought it would be the perfect time to try out that old stand, which overlooked a grove of apple trees.

“I knew there was a chance the deer would be feeding there,” he continued. “There had been fresh tracks leading to that area throughout the bow season.”

The snow was the worst of it. The temperature was about 20 degrees — certainly doable, if a guy could stay dry. Slogging uphill wasn’t easy, but Dave reached the trio of maples at 6:45, in plenty of time to beat dawn.
Rather than climb the unfamiliar and questionable stand in the dark, he waited until the sun was up before testing it.

“Having never been in that stand before, I wasn’t sure what kind of shape it was in,” he said, “so I found a good spot on the ground with sufficient cover and waited.”

The steps seemed solid enough, and the platform was surprisingly stable. So he eased onto it and settled in for the calm morning. The breeze was faint, though laden with the scent of fermenting corn silage.

Dave had seen a couple of does that first hour aloft when his phone vibrated. Andrea, worried about their cat, was sending him text messages.

True Grit“Her messages were like whole pages, while my answers were two or three letters,” he said. “Finally, as I was texting her back to say I’d be sure to check on the cat when I got home, something caught my eye to the north.”

When Dave slowly turned around for a better look, he saw a shooter buck moving quickly through the apple grove. A quick glance through binoculars revealed it was indeed the biggest whitetail he’d ever seen.

He waited until the deer entered a small clearing 45 yards away before squeezing his shotgun’s trigger. The buck fell, but it was trying to regain its footing.

A thoroughly rattled Dave shot twice more, but he didn’t cut a hair.

He got down from the stand as quickly as possible and re-stoked his Remington 870 with 2 3/4-inch, 12-gauge slugs. A fourth shot ended the deer’s struggle with gravity.

Dave was in awe. He’d never seen such a deer in the flesh.

“I immediately text-messaged my wife to tell her I’d just taken the buck of a lifetime, and her response was: ‘Yeah right, liar.’”

Nevertheless, Andrea called her father and told him Dave had shot something and might need some help.

“His jaw dropped when he saw what I’d shot,” Dave said. “His land has been home to many remarkable bucks over the years, but this one was the biggest, by far.”

After loading the buck, Dave drove over to Andrea’s workplace to prove he hadn’t lied.

“Now, even though weeks have passed, I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming,” he said.

Official Score: 184 4/8
Composite Score: 206

– Photos Courtesy of Dave Edwards

This article was published in the Winter 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

Copyright 2018 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd